For grape growing, the most important physical property of soil is its texture, which refers to the particle sizes in the soil. Soil texture influences water holding capacity, root growth, overall vine vigour, soil fertility, and aeration. Soil particles are divided into 3 classes: sands (coarsest), silts and clays (finest). Ideal textures for vines are loams (roughly 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay). Other important soil characteristics are structure (content of stone fragments, hardpan layers, etc), pH (acidity), and nutrient content. Vines often need deep roots, so hardpan layers need to be broken up with deep ripping. Soil pH should be 6.0 to 6.8 for optimal uptake of nutrients. Organic matter should be modest, 2% to 3%, to avoid too much vegetal growth.

Grape vines don’t like wet feet, so also important is good drainage, a factor of both texture and slope.
Saanich has had a complex geological history since the last ice age, and therefore has a wide variety of soil materials: glacial till soils of mixed textures, beach/alluvial soils of medium to coarse textures, and marine clay soils of medium to fine textures. Saanich soil pH is often too low (too acidic) and needs to be raised by adding lime for several years.

Symphony’s vineyard site on Oldfield Rd consists primarily of a rocky glacial till loam. Our steady slope provides excellent drainage, which allows the soil to dry out and warm up relatively quickly during the summer. We deep-ripped before planting to break up occasional clay layers, and added lime for several years to adjust the soil pH. Every couple of years we have the soil analyzed to help plan our fertilizer program. We maintain a custom-mix grass cover crop between the rows to reduce soil erosion and compaction, improve the soil structure with organic matter, and promote soil flora and fauna.

Wine grapes grow primarily in areas where the mean annual temperature varies between 10°C and 20°C, shown on the map below. Colder than this, grapes won’t ripen or suffer too much winter damage; warmer than this, they won’t go properly dormant during winter and therefore won’t bear fruit the following summer.World Viticulture Regions

As you can see, BC wineries are near the edge of the northern viticulture zone. Our own growing area is located near the ocean, which of course strongly moderates both our summer and winter temperatures relative to further-inland continental wine areas like the Okanagan. We also have a radically different rainfall pattern than the Okanagan – they have very little precipitation during the winter and start the growing year with very dry soils, while our wet winters mean we start with completely saturated soils.
Other important climate variables for successful winegrape growing are the amount of summer rainfall, the frost risk at each end of the growing season (April to October), and especially, the accumulated heat during the growing season, usually measured in Growing Degree Days (GDD). To obtain GDD, the average temperature above 10°C is calculated each day and cumulatively added up during the growing season, as illustrated below for two consecutive days which sum up to 9 GDD:Growing Degree Days - how it is calculated
Growing Degree Days allow us to compare one year to others in our area, and to compare ourselves to other winegrape growing areas. Familiarity with the GDD concept will help you understand our monthly updates under the Saanich Climate tab.
Different winegrape varietals require different amounts of heat (GDD) to ripen, and it’s very important to plant grape varietals which are matched to your climate. A quickly ripening varietal planted in a hot climate will ripen during the hot summer, which is too soon – many of the wonderful complex aromas and flavours in wine develop during the fall, when the nights are cool and the leaves are beginning to turn. Conversely, a slowly ripening varietal in a cool climate won’t ripen at all.
Saanich is definitely a cool-climate viticulture region, and requires early ripening varietals. Our climate is perfect for crisp, aromatic whites such as Symphony’s Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Ortega; although our summers are relatively cool, there’s very little frost risk in the fall and we can leave the grapes hanging long enough to build up wonderful varietal flavours and aromas. Relatively few of the famous red grapes will fully ripen here; in a good year Pinot Noir can produce wonderful Burgundy-style reds, while in cooler years the same grapes can be used for lovely crisp dry Rosés or even whites like Symphony’s Blanc de Noir. At Symphony’s Oldfield Road and Starling Lane vineyards we have Maréchel Foch and Léon Millot, two French-American hybrids created in Colmar, Alsace in the early 1900’s (see our Grapes tab). Due to their partial parentage in quickly-developing American cultivars, Foch and Millot reliably ripen every year in our climate, and produce rich, fruit-forward medium bodied red wines.
Global warming will slowly increase the average heat in our growing seasons. In the medium term, however, the primary climatic factors we have to deal with are large GDD variation from year to year, and large yield variations tied to spring-time temperatures. Our growing season GDD often vary by 15% to 20% from one year to the next, which really drives home the point of planting suitable varietals which ripen regardless of the type of summer we’ve had. Grape harvest yields vary even more, from low crop years like 2012, to record harvests like 2014 in which all six of our varietals yielded 2 to 3 times the amounts in 2012!! The yield is not primarily connected to summertime heat, but rather to the springtime from bud-break (when cluster size is being set) to bloom (when fruit set occurs), and even to springtime of the previous year when the number of clusters for the present year is set. When conditions are perfect for all of these very temperature-sensitive processes, an amazing harvest results, as in 2014.

In this section, we summarize the Saanich temperature and rainfall data each month of the April to October growing season, compare it to previous months and years, and comment on the implications for our grapes and upcoming harvest. For some general information on our grape-growing climate, please see the Climate Background tab.
To help visualize the climate data, we produce the three graphs cycling above these tabs (click on the small circles to freeze one). The first graph shows both the monthly rainfall and GDD (Growing Degree Days, a measure of accumulated heat during the month) going back to 2007; the second shows the cumulative GDD curves back to 2007, and the third shows daily rainfall and high temperatures for 2017.

Lamont has plotted up the data for Saanich for 2017 (see plots). Overall a really nice vintage. Not quite as warm as the last couple of years but we are particularly appreciative of how aromatic the 2017 vintage is. The Pinot Gris is definitely a favorite this year and the Gewurztraminer a close second. Interesting to see the cooler season give us a great Gewurz! What do we expect going forward for climate? In the new year the predications were for a fairly strong La Nina through to April. Average temperatures and rainfall are forecast by US scientists as “cooler than average” Writing this end March it certainly seems that is has been cooler and rainier this Spring – stay tuned for the new data on 2018.

Monthly GDD and Rainfall Jan to end April 2018
Throughout our growing area, we had the driest March of the past 12 years, followed by the wettest April of the past 12 years! April GDD were average in Saanich, and above average in Cowichan and Comox.

Daily Highs and Rainfall
April started as a cool wet month, but all areas had a dramatic 6-7 day warm dry spell starting on the 22nd.

Cumulative GDD 2008-2018
The bump-up in GDD from the hot week towards the end of April is notable. Nothing like 2016, but a pretty good start to the season nevertheless.

Long Range Forecast Summer 2018
The long-term forecasts have improved significantly since last fall, with both US and Canadian 3-month forecasts calling for above average temperatures in the Wine Islands.